Betjeman manuscript of poem about Oscar Wilde in London auction
Poem depicts Wilde as a pathetic creature, sipping “a weak hock and seltzer” as he awaits the arrival of the police
Irish writer and dramatist Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), 28th May 1889. (Photo by W. and D. Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing,” Oscar Wilde reputedly said of the little heroine in Charles Dickens’s novel, The Old Curiosity Shop . A similar sentiment is likely to be prompted by John Betjeman’s preposterous poem, sometimes dubbed “tragic”, The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel . It’s more tragicomic and depicts Wilde as a pathetic creature, sipping “a weak hock and seltzer” in his room at the hotel in Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, fretting about his astrakhan coats as he awaits the arrival of the police. Here’s a sample: “Mr Woilde, we ’ave come for to take yew/where felons and criminals dwell/We must hask yew to leave with us quoitly/For this is the Cadogan Hotel. ” To which the only response is: LOL.
The poem, like its author, was once quite famous. Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) was appointed Poet Laureate by Queen Elizabeth in 1972. During the second World War he spent some time in Ireland as press attaché at the British Embassy in Dublin. His handwritten draft of The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel (from the early 1930s and written on notepaper from The Architectural Review is to be sold at Bonhams, New Bond Street in London on Wednesday and the estimate is £5,000-£6,000.